Books on Lieder

The Lieder of Strauss by Alan Jefferson. Cassell

The Lieder of Schumann by Stephen Walsh. Cassell


These are the first two of what is seriously called a series. But they are on entirely different plans, and planes. Perhaps it’s a geometric series. The Strauss book certainly has odd incongruences. For example it eschews interpretation, on the ground that only professional singers and pianists can deal with that topic – an amazing opinion from any critic, and a stupefying one from a Professor of Vocal Interpretation. Again, it gives a list of “poems set by Strauss and other composers” which shows a closer acquaintance with Reger and Pfitzner than with Schubert, Schumann, Brahms or Wolf. 20 pages of biographical material are followed by 90 of texts, translations and commentary, all written with an engaging enthusiasm which would make a winning entry in a record album. But wearing the heart on the sleeve is no justification for keeping everything else up it. Only about 50 lieder are reviewed, and in an arrange­ment so arbitrary that one grouping is actually called “Three Different Songs”. I found the short measure a sizable bar to enjoyment. However, the author explains, with disarming candour, that if he had treated all the 200 or so songs in equal depth and detail the result would have been little more than notes on each.

    Stephen Walsh can do much more than this, and for many more songs. He can in fact produce a well-organized and well-written 120-page treatise which will long serve serious students as the model intro­duction to its subject. Moreover, he clearly does so with resources of musical knowledge and perception held in reserve (e.g. in the comments on key-structure, p.42). A second edition or a larger-scale work will provide an opportunity to check one or two points with German sources (e.g. the ill-starred footnote about Schöpff on p.88, which not only gets his right name wrong but adds a slip of the pen-name as well).

    No doubt both books will “fill a long-felt gap”, as the blurb excitingly claims. But it seems that the vital questions of whose, which, how, and with what end in view are being left wide open by the publishers – hardly a proper attitude for a reputable house.


The Musical Times, Jan. 1972 (p. 44) © the estate of eric sams